Church doctrine must never be isolated from a practical pastoral context. That theme was at the heart of a video message that Pope Francis sent to participants at an International Theological Congress taking place at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina (UCA) in the capital Buenos Aires this week.
Speaking in his native Spanish, the Pope said a theologian is above all a child of his or her people, who knows the tradition of the Church and encounters the personal stories of individuals. A theologian, he continued, is a believer, who has discovered he or she cannot live without Christ in their lives. And the theologian is a prophet, he said, who reflects the tradition of the past, while creating a bridge to the present and future.
In the message marking the centenary of the University’s theology faculty and the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis stressed the importance of recapturing the memory of God’s presence in the life of the Church. We cannot have isolated individual Churches, he stressed, which claim to possess a unique interpretation of our reality and of the action of the Holy Spirit. In the same way, he went on, we cannot have a universal Church which ignores or denies the reality of the local Churches. Our tradition, he said, is like a living river which springs from our origins of faith and flows towards the future, irrigating and giving life to the various parts of our world.
The role of the theologian, Pope Francis said, is to discern and reflect on what it means to be a Christian today. A Christian in Argentina now, he explained, is not the same as a hundred years ago, and it’s not the same as a Christian in India, Canada or Rome. Theological research must provide answers to the great challenges of our day, he said, avoiding the two great temptations of being either too conservative and rejecting anything new, or embracing every novelty without the wisdom of the past.
In this context, the Pope concluded, doctrine can never be separated from the pastoral context. He pointed to the great fathers of the Church, like Irenaeus, Augustine, Basil or Ambrose, who were great theologians because they were great pastors too. Encountering families, the poor and those who live on the margins of society, he said, is the path to a better understanding of our faith.